Can Venture Capitalists Not Be Evil?

“I think I’m just going to become an asshole,” David said. “It’s obvious girls actually prefer it.”

“NO!” I yelled -- didn't mean to, but I couldn’t help my immediate and urgent reaction. Softening my tone, I added, “Look, it’s true some girls respond to guys who treat them badly. But is that the kind of girl you want? Someone who doesn’t value herself and who puts your sorry ass on a pedestal? And do you want to be the one who reinforces to this girl that she is in fact worthless and doesn’t deserve a healthy relationship? Don’t you dare.”

It seemed so obvious to me -- and yet, he hesitated. David’s dilemma came down to a choice between two worldviews. One says it’s more important to win the girl, the other says it’s more important to do the right thing.

This kind of analysis happens all the time, and not just in love. Am I doing this because it’s effective? Is it rewarded? Is it worth it? Is it the right thing to do?



A similar debate was at the heart of a blog post this week by London-based venture capitalist Gil Dibner, titled  ”Towards a VC Code of Conduct.” The post implies two contrasting worldviews. One suggests that the pie is finite, and success lies in getting as much of it as possible, knowing that the more you get, the less remains for others. The other says that the pie is infinitely adaptable, and that the more we grow it collectively, the more we can all have. The first calls for fighting against each other; the second, for working with each other.

It’s not hard to figure out which one Dibner subscribes to, as he outlines a series of promises like “I will do no harm,” “I will educate before I negotiate,” “I will not seek an unreasonable equity stake in your business,” and “I will be honest about what standard terms are.” He goes into detail on each one on the blog, which is well worth the read.

But beyond the list of nice-sounding commitments lies his rationale, a rationale that clearly exposes the worldview behind the Code of Conduct. On the one hand, it’s based in decency: “There is, often,” he says, “an experiential advantage that VCs enjoy relative to entrepreneurs – when it comes to the VC-entrepreneur relationship, we VCs have simply been around the block many more times. Because of that, I think it’s important that VCs act decently at all times.”

But Dibner’s purpose goes beyond just being a nice guy. He clearly understands that this kind of behavior is enlightened self-interest at its best, minimizing future risk and laying the groundwork for a better long-term outlook for his investments: “I have met too many founders in London, Edinburgh, Berlin, Belgrade, and beyond that have been (pardon my Americanism) screwed by unscrupulous or unprofessional VCs or angels. In far too many of these cases, the situation is basically unrecoverable: the cap table, legal terms, and investor base of the company have become so toxic that no new investor will be likely to go through the pain of rescuing the situation – and things typically just unravel from there.”

In the end, my friend David decided to not be an asshole because he is a moral and decent human being. But Dibner shows that the right moral thing can also be the more successful thing. And that’s a worldview that I can subscribe to.

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